Sunday, June 20, 2004

Duel Of The Masters Unknown Kung Fu Movie

* * ¼ (out of four) - though arguably a three-plus-star experience
Seen 19 June 2004 at Coolidge Corner #2 (Midnight Ass-Kickings)

I didn't immediately suspect that Garo had brought the wrong movie to the Midnight Ass-Kicking (despite his talk of functioning on three hours of sleep after doing some drinking on his vacation), but something seemed amiss. After all, the flier for this month's features read:
This recently unearthed unofficial sequel to Taoism Drunkard features a Spunky little alcoholic kung fu master who rides a wooden horse, exceptionally large keys used as martial arts weapons, ghosts and vampires that look like mimes, and random acts of violence against a guy with genital warts on his face! Directed by Wilson (Snake Deadly Act) Tong with the action once again handled by the Yuen Clan.


I didn't remember Tong's name exactly, but the opening credits (in English, which itself was unusual) had someone named "Artis Chou" as the director. Of course, the front end of the credits was cut off, so we didn't get to see the actual title. But, when the movie starts off dubbed rather than (poorly) subtitled as Taoism Drunkard was, and seemed to be merely campy rather than flat-out insane, I was a little puzzled. By the end, when I was pretty sure we hand't seen any gigantic keys or mimes, or guys with genital warts on their faces (though there was one guy with a tiny Hitler mustache), I was pretty sure we'd seen a different movie. But, hey, it was still a kung fu movie I hadn't seen, so I figure I got my money's worth. And there was no announcement afterward about something being amiss, so I figure I'll have to wait until next week to find out what the heck was going on. Garo mentioned he hadn't seen Duel himself, so maybe he didn't realize this was the wrong movie until afterwards either.

So, what movie was it? Well, the closest thing IMDB has to "Artis Chou" is "Artis Chow", listed as having directed two movies in the 1970s (which looks about right). Of the two, Chinese Kung Fu looks more likely, but that ain't exactly a page chock-full of detail. So, if anyone recognizes the movie from my description, leave a comment.

Anyway, the film starts out with Wu-Wang leaving the monastary where he was raised since the age of five, to rejoin his late mother's family; his master tells him that he must not use his kung fu except when defending his home or country. When he arrives at the town where his family resides, though, his pocket is picked and he stumbles onto the ones who picked his pocket attempting to shake down a drunken merchant (who, of course, has a pretty daughter). He clenches his fist in a "must...not...give...into...violent rage..." manner, but another man about his age, just returned from school, steps in and kicks the little miscreants' butts. It transpires that he is Wu-Wang's cousin; it also turns out that his family heads up a sort of shipping union, and these hustlers work for a crime boss who is trying to help a Japanese rival secure shipping for iron ore to Japan. The union won't do this, since it's the 1930s and they feel war is inevitable, and why help transport ore that will be used to make weapons to shoot them?

This insult, the crime lords feel, must be avenged, and so begins a series of fights that culminate in Wu-Wang, his cousin, and their "Uncle" having to work they way through the gang members, the Japanese crime lord's assistant (he of the Hitler mustache and the perpetual sneer), the Japanese crime lord himself (he's got a much larger mustache and big, big sideburns), and finally the head of the gang, who apparently has some past connection with Wu-Wang's family.

The first few fights aren't that great. If the 1977 date is correct, then it's from that period between the death of Bruce Lee and the rise of Jackie Chan and his contemporaries when martial arts movies seem (from what little I've seen) to be fairly formulaic, and though reasonably bloody, it often seems that the fighters only come as close to hitting each other as they do in, well, American movies. There's also a fair amount of "let's attack him one by one", but the bad guys learn better at around the middle, in a fight on a beach, and from there the action picks up. The final fight is long and exciting, and looked pretty painful by the end. The movie may have started slow, but it delivers the goods in the last act.

This was a great crowd for a screwed-up movie like this. Aside from how this has to be the second-largest crowd I can remember at an Ass-Kicking (after only Revenge Of The Shogun Women In 3-D), there's a time for being quiet, and there's a time for a more, shall we say, participatory crowd, this being the latter. The bad dubbing just begged to be mocked - especially that drunken merchant, who was absolutely incomprehensible even in English - as did the Japanese guys with the facial hair which were bizarre in extraordinarily different ways. A line about how Uncle always hesitates is ironically dubbed with a huge pause in the middle, and there's plenty of maniacal laughter to join in with.

And the coup de grace - one of the reels was duplicated. That's right, at one point the movie just jumps ten or twelve minutes back in time, plays that whole ten minutes out again, and then continues. The guy in front of me wondered if this was a result of him being stoned, but it happened for all of us. This segment did, however, include both one of the unintentionally funniest bits of bad staging (the girl being held hostage threatens to kill herself, and then awkwardly drops her knife and runs downstairs and her clothes being torn to expose an obvious body double's breast. There was some cheering when that happened for the second time, knowing it was coming. It was that kind of crowd.

I can't say this was a good movie. I can't even say what movie it was. But I can say that it was one of the more enjoyable experiences I've had at a theater in the past few months; you just don't get this kind of visceral, crazy reaction to many movies.

1 comment:

ric@crashcinema.com said...

Hey Jason...or Jay. I'm with Crash Media, and we're releasing this movie on DVD. We'd like to quote from your revue on the DVD back cover. If there's a prob, contact me at ric@crashcinema.com. Otherwise look for the DVD later in 2005!